Last year I wrote about the case of Dr Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace (LR, Oct 2010), a respected Bahraini academic who, on his return from a conference at the House of Lords in London, was arrested for criticising Bahrain’s human rights record. His trial is ongoing and he is currently held under house arrest.
Since then, events in Egypt and Tunisia have triggered further Shia-led protests in Bahrain against the Sunni government’s policies. A campaign for political reform gathered strength in mid-February this year. The Bahraini security forces responded to the protests with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators. Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed, many were wounded, and numerous pro-democracy protesters were arrested. The Bahraini government declared a state of emergency on 15 March 2011 and brought in troops from neighbouring Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to help quell the dissent.
The state of emergency was lifted on 3 June 2011 but those arrested under that law are still in detention. Amongst those held for peacefully expressing their views are poet and student Ayat Al-Gormezi, aged twenty, and writer and journalist Abbas Al-Murshid.
Al-Gormezi was arrested on 30 March 2011 after reading protest poems at a pro-democracy rally in Pearl Square, Manama, in which she condemned the ruling family’s repressive stance and called for transparency. One poem, since translated and circulated by PEN, included the following plea to the government:
Hear us all, for we all demand likewise –
both sects, all Bahrainis:
You must go.
Take His Majesty with you,
and leave your deeds behind.
from where do you derive your power,
the power to keep your people down?
all your people,
Yet you call for ‘dialogue’,
even in the midst of your brutality?
After masked police threatened to kill her brothers, Al-Gormezi was forced to turn herself in. She has since told her family that she was forced to sign a false confession. During her pre-trial detention, she was reportedly whipped across the face with electric cable, held for nine days in a tiny cell in near-freezing conditions, and forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands. Her mother has said that her daughter had to be moved to a military hospital after being tortured.
On 2 June 2011, Al-Gormezi appeared before a military tribunal in Manama on charges of ‘insulting the king, taking part in banned gatherings, and spreading false information’. The trial was adjourned until 12 June 2011, when she was sentenced to one year in prison. Her family claims that she was sentenced by a security court without any legal argument and that her lawyer was denied the opportunity to speak on her behalf. The family has lodged an appeal.
One of the first women to be imprisoned following the unrest, Al-Gormezi has become emblematic of Bahrain’s peaceful resistance to repression. Her detention has been widely covered by the international media and it is believed that she received a lesser sentence than expected because of the publicity given to her case.
The Sunni monarchy recently allowed a rally, attended by 10,000 people, to be mounted by the main opposition party al-Wifaq, indicating that they are increasingly sensitive to international pressure.
Another vocal critic of the government currently detained is Abbas Al-Murshid, a well-known Bahraini writer and researcher and a frequent contributor to the Bahraini daily Al-Waqt as well as numerous online publications. He has written regularly about Bahrain’s social unrest, corruption, institutional discrimination and other topics considered sensitive by the government.
On 15 May 2011, he was summoned to appear at Al-Naeim police station for interrogation. The following day, he called his family to tell them that he had been placed under arrest but the line was then abruptly disconnected. At the time of writing, Al-Murshid continues to be held incommunicado without charge. He has been arrested on several occasions previously in relation to his work, and many of his books have been banned in Bahrain. At the end of January 2009, Al-Murshid was hospitalised after being hit above his eye with a rubber bullet in a targeted attack.
Readers might like to send appeals expressing serious concern about the sentencing of Ayat Al-Gormezi, the arrest of Abbas Al-Murshid and the ongoing trial of Dr Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, in violation of their right to freedom of expression; calling for their immediate and unconditional release; seeking immediate guarantees that all those currently detained are not tortured or ill-treated; and urging the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and end the violent crackdown on those who are peacefully expressing their opinions. Send appeals to:
His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain
Fax: +973 176 64 587
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Fax: +973 175 31 284
H E Ambassador Shaikh Khalifa bin Ali bin Rashid Al-Khalifa
30 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8QB
Fax: 020 7201 9183